Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A
For ‘In God we live and move and have our being’…
This wonderful little piece of scripture is Saint Paul’s preeminent theology–the central testimony of his belief.
For ‘In God we live and move and have our being’…
But when he first said this, Paul was stirring up trouble.
He’d already been driven out of Thessalonica and Bearea,
Luke tells us some jealous religious leaders,
alleged Paul was declaring there is another king, a king named Jesus.
They gained the help of ruffians in the marketplaces,
formed a mob and set Thessalonica in an uproar.
Paul and Silas had to flee.
Looking for them everywhere, the mob dragged Jason and some of his household out of their home, saying “these were the hosts of the men who
have been turning the world upside down.”
I imagine the mob was just trying to drum up charges against them, with this accusation, but you have to admit It’s a wonderful complaint,
“they have been turning the world upside down.”
Fascinating to me that, little did they know, they were speaking the truth.
They could not really have thought this little tent making mystic, named Paul, and his sparse followers would change the world?
It is Hard enough for us to imagine how this happened.
When I was ten years old, my parents took our family on a European tour.
We began in Brussels, Belgium,
loading up all our belongings for the summer into a Volkswagen camper. This was to be our home for the next two months.
We camped all across the continent– into Germany, East and West, through Austria, up into Switzerland, down to poor Yugoslavia,
and all the way to Thessalonica Greece, where my father’s seminary classmate lived.
We stayed with this man and his family in Thessalonica,
and enjoyed some amazing food. Their house was like one you’d read about in the bible, with a large outdoor courtyard onto which the homes doors opened, all surrounded by a wall.
This was the first time I realized how the Christian Church
had such an old and odd history.
Churches there in Greece are 1000 years old,
and the ruins of ancient Greece, are much, much older.
The established religious traditions and beliefs in Greek history,
had been in place since the time of Homer in the 8th C BC.
How did one man, Paul, in the first century make any gains in the face of such engrained beliefs.
How did he accomplish so much, moving from town to town as he did—sometimes hiding or having to run away?
I can only say, if God was not part of it,
there is no way Paul would have succeeded.
After Thessalonica and Bearea, Paul goes to Athens, Greece—
the center of Greek philosophy and religion—and what does he see there?
The evidence of a rich polytheist worship all around him.
Luke tells us in the Act of the Apostles, that Paul was deeply distressed
to see all the worship of idols there.
Paul would be stirring up trouble again.
But it seems after his recent encounters, having to flee the other cities,
Paul would try a different approach.
We didn’t read the part of the story leading up to today’s reading that sets this story up, but we should know that
Paul was taken to the Areopagus, a rocky hill just outside of Athens.
This was a place that for centuries was used as a place for trials.
“May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?”
the philosophers and learned people of Athens asked.
“It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.”
Rather than getting right to the matter,
Paul begins differently this time.
Paul says, “I see how extremely religious you are…”
Drawing them in,
He remarks, “I found…an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.”
The gospel that Saint Paul preached and wrote about
after his conversion,
the good news he taught wherever his went,
follows the message he gave Athens that day.
Paul witnesses to power of God to transform us.
To give us life where there seems nothing but death.
Who better to tell of the transforming power of God than Paul?
The man whose own life was turned upside down
after his encounter with the risen Christ.
Transformation is what Paul is all about.
This is the message he wants the Athenians to hear—
And it a universal message for our time as well….
this unknown God you have worshipped,
this force you feel around you, this curiosity you have,
this conscience you sense inside yourselves,
this God has a name and a purpose for you.
He is the one who gives life and breath to all mortals & all living things.
Your hearts yearn to know the true God—it is evident all around you—
so you must understand
God is not in golden idols or shrines…he is not in horoscopes or tarot cards or lottery tickets either.
God is in you; you are God’s offspring, and God has given us assurance of his love in raising his own appointed one from the dead.
There was a couple who were converted right there on the spot in Athens,
but many scoffed, and others kept questioning him.
By all measures, Paul’s message was a small success.
There were 150,000 Athenians in the first century;
Luke names 2 who joined Paul that day.
So you might wonder what kept Paul going—
he was off to Corinth the next day.
What inspired him to keep preaching and teaching the good news?
Well, we don’t have to guess.
Jesus promised his disciples that God will give them an Advocate,
the Spirit of truth, to abide with you, and be in you.
It is this spirit who drove Paul and encouraged him.
It is the Advocate who Paul took into his heart who fed him.
In God we live and move and have our being–
In God we find our true selves, our strength, our purpose, our life, our love.
If we take any lesson from Paul, this should be it:
Love is what God gave you, when you didn’t even know what love is.
Perhaps our best analogy for this day, is motherly love, a pre-knowing love.
I understand not everyone had a loving mother, but when healthy,
the self-sacrificing, love of mothers might be as close to our experience of God’s love as we can imagine.
When you were in the womb, your mother knew your kicking and squirming.
Your mother’s body took on a different shape and feel—
on one hand, our mothers might say,
“child, you kept me up and made my ankles swell”….
and on the other, she’d say,
“your presence could not have been closer to me than my own breath.”
God’s love comes first,
like the prior belovedness of a mother
or a grandmother, aunt, father, grandfather, uncle…
before you could hold your head up, or focus your eyes, or even smile…before anyone knew who you would become, you were loved.
It is this indwelling love, that makes this life so incredibly precious.
It is this spirit of God that abides in us
Who gives us the hope and strength, like Paul,
like all those who worked to spread the good news
one or two people at a time.
The spirit calls us to the same,
to walk alongside others in this broken world and share the love of God,
In whom we live and move and have our being’…